Melt-Banana
Return of 13 Hedgehogs (MxBx Singles 2000 - 2009)


4.0
excellent

Review

by Johnny[Well] STAFF
May 24th, 2020 | 19 replies


Release Date: 2015 | Tracklist

Review Summary: 52 minutes, 10 years

Return of 13 Hedgehogs (MxBx Singles 2000-2009)

MxBx Singles 2000-2009

Melt-Banana Singles.

Yeah.

Anyone who ever felt short of second helpings from Tokyo’s one-of-a-kind noise/grind export can count themselves contented with this one: Return of 13 Hedgehogs is as extensive and exhaustive a search for whatever the hell a Melt-Banana single should sound like as one could hope for. It’s also a great selection from the band in their prime; Melt-Banana never had a ‘golden era’ - they hit their A-game on 1998’s Charlie and have never dropped the ball since - but there’s a special quality about their ‘00s work, when the core duo of vocalist Yako and guitarist Ichirou Agata were still backed up by the thunderous tones of bassist Rika Hamamoto. Although the band have been relatively sparing with their full-lengths since 2003’s classic Cell-Scape, they were relentlessly productive in between these releases, both as a live act and as serial collaborators. Return of 13 Hedgehogs is testament to this, a vast offering drawn from splits with various artists (including The Locust and Fantomas), obscure standalone releases, and the Initial T. EP. It’s both a convenient showcase of their lesser-known material and a treasure trove for anyone yet to explore beyond their LPs.

Unusually for Melt-Banana, there’s an elephant in the room here (albeit a particularly clamorous one): 52 minutes of this band is quite frankly far too much for anyone in their right mind to process in a single listen. For all their gleeful excesses in other areas, Melt-Banana’s LPs are uniformly tactful in not overstaying their welcome. Such considerations are absent here, though admittedly irrelevant to its scope as an anthology. Return of 13 Hedgehogs’ sequencing preserves the original tracklists from each standalone release, each of which is presented in chronological order: it kicks off with their 2001 split with Three Studies For A Crucifixion and concludes with 2009’s Initial T.. As such, the nuances of each release’s transitions are carried over, but the compilation of a whole is a disparate barrage; for all it’s cute to hear “Grave In The Hole (Pitfall Fits A Bit)”’s whiplash tradeoffs between goofy ambience and straight-up grind sublimate into “Capital 1060 Hospital”’s space-age delay skit, the bottom line is that there are too many ideas played at too high an intensity for this release to be remotely digestible as a holistic experience.

As such, Return of 13 Hedgehogs is essentially a 29-song content dump that will run halfhearted listeners into the ground, while presenting fans with the challenge of reconfiguring its tracklist for their own ends. The 29 tracks in question chart out the full spectrum of the band’s sound in bitesize cuts, several of which offer an interesting peak at ideas that would have sounded misplaced on their full-lengths. For instance, “Monkey Man” and “Love Song” are goofball punk songs that veer disarmingly close to conventional territory. The band clearly have a ton of fun here, and these tracks stand out a lighter punctuations among the more frantic numbers. On that note, some tracks do come surprisingly close to whatever a Melt-Banana ‘single’ (an joyously ludicrous concept, even for the tracks that actually were released as singles) would sound like: “Sweeper”, “Pain In Ash” and “Loop Nebula” all present a more palatable version of band’s classic sound, less overbearing but equally distinctive. “Sweeper” is a mid-tempo banger and as close as we will ever get to a Yako-fronted singalong, with a terrific groove to match, while “Loop Nebula” keeps the bpm count high and backs itself up with one of her most exuberant and inviting performances to date. I’m not convinced that this user-friendly mode of Melt-Banana would necessarily be the best starting point for newcomers, but it’s certainly a refreshing twist. It’s also easy to pick out the roots of Fetch’s melodic layerings on these tracks; the compilation’s tail-end certainly makes more sense as a precursor to that record than 2007’s Bambi’s Dilemma, both chronologically and stylistically.

In sharp contrast, some moments feel like worthwhile revisions of the band’s flashfire ‘90s grind days. “About”, “Puddle, Float” and “Cat In Red” are more creatively layered than anything on, say, Speak Squeak Creak but they’re far more evocative of that album’s spirit than anything else the band came up with twixt 2000 and 2009. The band’s pre-Charlie works were done something of a disservice by Steve Albini’s dry production and recording styles, which failed to capture the more visceral experience of the band’s live show. As such, it’s a joy to hear this sound showcased to its fullest here: the quickfire blasts that kick off “About” and the ***ing wrecking ball of a bassline that drops around half a minute into “Cat In Red” are both the stuff of Melt-Banana classics.

Finally and inevitably, there are the oddballs that feel destined for a non-album release from the get-go. “52 Hands, 36 Possibilities” is the clearest outlier here, less an actual song than a protracted dismembering of a piano overlaid with Yako’s best impersonation of a reverb-besotted stoner cat. Magical stuff. More accessible, though equally wry, is their cover of the 1960 Italian pop song “Tintarella Di Luna”. Yako is infamous for her English language lyric and delivery as is; here she gives Italian similar treatment over a bright hardcore jam makes, coining a perfect hidden gem. Also notable is “Capital 1060 Hospital”, which evokes the jarring ambient outings interspersed throughout Bambi’s Dilemma but presents this sound in a kookier, more intense form. These tracks are the icing on the cake, a set of loveable showstoppers that make the challenge of trawling through an extensive compilation thoroughly worthwhile.

Categorisation aside, few of these tracks pack the same knockout value as the highlights on the band’s major releases, but - crucially - all of them bring the same balance of off-the-wall intensity and tongue-in-cheek levity that made them so fun to begin with. In many ways, this is the only thing that matters here; Return of 13 Hedgehogs will hardly ameliorate extant sticking points for skeptical listeners, but for returning fans there’s plenty worth hearing here. These tracks add an extra layer to the band’s studio discography, affirming the evolution of their sound while catering to the attention spans great and small with a plethora of cheap thrills. With the Melt-Banana’s long awaited follow-up to Fetch lurking just over the horizon, there are far worse ways to touch base with the band’s fundaments than taking the plunge with Return of 13 Hedgehogs.




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user ratings (12)
3.9
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
May 24th 2020


26639 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Dedicate to Space Jester for forcing me to listen to this :] not the most interesting write-up, but I got bored and this compilation is ace, so

Full stream: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDvLyNju884

Recommended tracks (in order): Tintarella Di Luna, Capital 1060 Hospital, About, 52 Hands 36 Possibilities, Sweeper, Cat In Red, Pain In Ash, Loop Nebula, Leeching

tl;dr listen to Cat In Red, that shit fking slaps

Digging: Sweet Trip - You Will Never Know Why

widowslaugh123
May 24th 2020


2077 Comments


Damn for some reason never got around to this one when I was in the throes of my melt-banana obsession. Fantastic review definitely got me wanting to jam this tomorrow.

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
May 24th 2020


26639 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Shit yeah dude, this is a lot to chew through but defs worthwhile - post your vibes when you get round to it!!

Demon of the Fall
May 24th 2020


16432 Comments


Hang on, I thought this was just a singles comp of some sort? Might check then.

Cheers Johnny.

Digging: Old Man Gloom - Seminar VIII: Light Of Meaning

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
May 24th 2020


26639 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

it's probs better described as an anthology of all their '00s splits tbh, definitely worth checking (although I wouldn't take it any of their albums from Charlie onward)

GhandhiLion
May 24th 2020


9247 Comments


hedgehogs :3

Digging: Speaker Music - Black Nationalist Sonic Weaponry

parksungjoon
May 24th 2020


21065 Comments


donut steel

Digging: Prong - Primitive Origins

GhandhiLion
May 24th 2020


9247 Comments


90's hedgehogs were cooler.

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
May 24th 2020


26639 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

all 56 of em :O that release contained album songs though, so it doesn't count

GhandhiLion
May 24th 2020


9247 Comments


No? All singles. Unless you mean singles that also were on albums too.

Some of them were different to the versions/recordings that were on albums iirc.

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
May 24th 2020


26639 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

brb gonna see how the 14 second version of So Unfilial Rule compares with my 11 second one ;] they play that one live all the time, so am expecting great things from the single version

parksungjoon
May 24th 2020


21065 Comments


Nothin personnel kid

widowslaugh123
May 24th 2020


2077 Comments


Yeah this rules. I feel like newcomers who hear this first might find their LPs a little tame in comparison. At least for their standards. There is just so much variety and zaniness on this not to mention all the covers rule. Although the damned cover on Charlie is better. But goddamn that devo cover whooo boy. It’s not as cohesive as their albums which is to be expected but it might mean less replay ability. I guess only time will tell.

RunOfTheMill
May 31st 2020


4088 Comments


would this be a good place to start with this band?

widowslaugh123
May 31st 2020


2077 Comments


People would probably say Fetch. I’d say Teeny Shiny maybe? I don’t know just pop it on it’s not a bad start necessarily

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
May 31st 2020


26639 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I'd go Cell-Scape, Fetch or Bambi lol, most of this one is more quickfire than their LP stuff and because the more fleshed out tracks don't crop up til the final third or so, it can be a bit of a blur. The LPs in general are shorter and easier to get into

GhandhiLion
May 31st 2020


9247 Comments


Start with the beginning.

RunOfTheMill
June 1st 2020


4088 Comments


Just listened to a bit of this and then went to Fetch, this is def all over the place. Fetch is quite good tho. I've never been keen on the 45 second hardcore bits

Album art is too cute tho, adorable little space hedgie :]

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
June 1st 2020


26639 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

In that case definitely do not go back to the early stuff lol. Cell-Scape and Charlie are their best two and defs worth following up with



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